How Does ADHD Feel Like

How Does ADHD Feel Like

Have you ever felt like everything is just a bit too much to handle? Like there are too many tasks and not enough energy to get them done? Do you frequently feel overwhelmed, like your head is chaotic or restless? If so, you may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Most of the information online focuses on the ADHD symptoms or behaviors - but there appears to be less about what it actually feels like. Learn more about what ADHD feels like in this article. 

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Written by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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The Inner Struggle Of Adult ADHD

Navigating life with ADHD means a constant battle to bring order to the chaos: wrangling the thoughts swirling within, tackling never-ending to-do lists, and constantly searching for lost items. Simple tasks can become an uphill battle, especially when motivation and interest decline. These are just a few of the hurdles I (and many others) encounter each day 🙋‍♀️.

Those unfamiliar with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder might see it as a condition curable by the right meds 💊 or a mental health issue that fades with time. The truth is, a diagnosis of adult ADHD is for life. 

But here's the catch: most available information focuses on ADHD symptoms and behaviors, leaving less room for exploration of how it truly feels. 

There's a lot of misinformation and many misconceptions; people with ADHD are just lazy, it's only supposed to affect kids, you need to experience hyperactivity to get a diagnosis…, and the list goes on. 🙄This misinformation is wrong; honestly, it can be tough for those of us with ADHD to hear.

That's why I'm here to give you a sense of how it feels to manage ADHD symptoms and an insight into what it can look like in everyday life. If you love someone with ADHD, hopefully, this can give you an insight into what your loved one goes through daily. 💕

If you're wondering if you might have ADHD or have recently been diagnosed, I hope these insights can clarify and validate your symptoms and struggles. It's important to note that not everyone will have the same experience as me; ADHD might have a few symptoms in common, but we all experience it differently. 👍

Let's get into it! ⬇️

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11 Examples Of How ADHD Feels

A Brain With No Off Switch

Feeling: Frustration 😤 Shame 😞

Imagine having a whirlwind of thoughts and ideas constantly swirling around your head – that's how ADHD can feel. It's like having a hurricane of mental activity 🌪️ that never seems to calm down. This constant influx of thoughts can make it difficult to concentrate on a single task or even engage in a peaceful moment of quiet contemplation. 🧘

My brain is always in overdrive, racing through different ideas, possibilities, and scenarios. There's no off switch, no pause button to press. This sensation of perpetual mental motion can be both fascinating and overwhelming, and it's a fundamental aspect of how ADHD feels.

When I'm in the middle of a conversation, and suddenly, an unrelated thought springs up in my head, it can be seriously frustrating. 😡 I start worrying about forgetting what I'm talking about and struggling to recall it after the chat.This is why, at times, I—like many folks with ADHD—tend to interrupt a lot and blurt out whatever thought crosses my mind without much of a filter. 

The problem is that this can throw off the rhythm of the conversation and even unintentionally upset the other person. I can forget that I’m not the only person in the conversation and not everyone will understand why I might be getting easily distracted or look like I can’t hear what they’re saying. It's not something I mean to do, but that impulse to share thoughts immediately can mess with the flow of the discussion, showing just how tricky communication can be when living with ADHD.

Hyperactivity and Restlessness

Feeling: Agitation 🥴 Exhaustion 😴

For many people with ADHD, the experience involves inner restlessness and a surplus of physical energy. This energy can manifest in constant fidgeting, trouble sitting still, or a compulsion to be in continuous motion. 🏃It's as if there's an engine constantly running without an option to turn off the ignition. 

This can be challenging when tasks require sustained attention or a clear head. The need for movement can sometimes be an outlet for excess energy, but it can also make situations that demand stillness particularly difficult. 😑

Dealing with hyperactivity can be truly draining. The constant need to move, fidget, or have that excess energy coursing through me can lead to exhaustion. It's like my body is always revved up, and even though it might seem like having boundless energy, it takes a toll on my physical and mental wellbeing. 😭  The restlessness and inability to sit still can leave me feeling worn out by the end of the day, making it challenging to find moments of calm and relaxation.


Feeling: Stressed 😵‍ Overwhelmed 🤯 Isolated 🧍

Imagine trying to follow a conversation or complete a task while your mind constantly jumps from one thought to another. People with ADHD often struggle to maintain concentration, and even the slightest distractions can easily distract their attention. 🤸It's like trying to watch a movie while someone keeps changing the channel every few seconds. 

Managing inattentive symptoms can lead to inner struggles that aren't visible to the outside world. Our brains naturally gravitate towards novelty, causing everything to capture our attention, mainly when it's new. This can be frustrating and even isolating, as you might feel disconnected from the present moment. 

Additionally, these inner battles can lead to feeling lost in the middle of a task or conversation. It's like a constant tug-of-war between the desire to focus and the mind's tendency to wander. 💭

The thing is, this distractibility isn't a choice; it's an intrinsic part of how our minds work. 🧠 The constant barrage of thoughts, coupled with a brain that's easily stimulated, makes it challenging to keep attention fixed on a single thing for an extended period. This can impact productivity, communication, and overall engagement in various activities.

Emotional Dysregulation

Feeling: Stressed 😵Anxious 😳 Irritable 😠

Living with ADHD involves the ceaseless whirlwind of thoughts and the emotional rollercoaster of navigating it. The weight of overwhelming situations often triggers a surge of stress and anxiety, which can be particularly intense for those of us with ADHD. 

It’s also important to be aware that we’re at an increased risk of comorbid mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder - particularly for those of us who have battled undiagnosed ADHD for most of our life. 👶

Trying to process a million things at once can become exhausting, and we can feel like we will never be able to catch up. As a result, we might feel frustration, tension, and an overarching feeling of being swamped.

The continuous influx of thoughts and the constant challenge of maintaining focus tend to push my anxiety levels to their limit. 🛑 This is driven further by a constant sense of urgency, the pressure to keep up with tasks and obligations, and a fear of missing crucial details and deadlines. 

This means I'm constantly on edge, making it tough to stay in the moment and find peace. It often stops me from enjoying what I'm doing here and now, as I'm always waiting for the next 'crisis' or to put out the next fire. 🔥

Sensory Overload

Feeling: Anger 😡 Withdrawn 😶 Overwhelmed 🤯

Everyday environments that might be manageable for others can be overwhelming for someone with ADHD due to sensory sensitivities. Sounds, lights and even textures can feel too intense, bombarding the senses and making it challenging to filter unnecessary stimuli. 

Imagine trying to concentrate on a conversation in a noisy coffee shop or focusing on a task while every sound, smell, and feeling is ten times stronger than usual. 😧 As our brain becomes preoccupied with processing all of this information at once, focusing on one thing at a time is impossible. This aspect of ADHD adds another layer to the challenge of staying engaged and attentive in various settings.

It can also make us feel pretty angry and cause us to be easily irritated, maybe leading us to lash out with hurtful words. It can feel like being poked and prodded, and feels suffocating. These symptoms can, at times, cause trouble within our relationships with others. When it's all over, we can feel drained and remove ourselves from the situation, leaving other people to wonder what went wrong. 🤷


Feeling: Ashamed 😔 Frustrated 😠 Inferior 🙈

The constant stream of thoughts and the brain's tendency to jump from one idea to another can impact memory and recall. It's not uncommon for individuals with ADHD to struggle with remembering stuff, especially if those details aren't engaging or relevant. 

This can sometimes lead to moments of forgetfulness that people may mistake for disinterest. For example, someone might struggle to recall what they had for breakfast or the tasks they completed earlier in the day. ✅ They might have anxiety about whether they forgot to turn off the stove when they left the house - and even what time they need to pick their child up from a certain event. This forgetfulness isn't due to a lack of care or attention but rather a result of the brain's unique processing patterns.

It can lead to us struggling with relationships, or feeling like a bad partner, mother or father. Our friends, kids and co-workers can have trouble understanding us, and may even feel anger towards us or mistake our inability to remember things as being lazy. This can lead to low self esteem, mood swings and depression; it’s easy to fall into a trap of feeling like we can’t get anything right in life when we have trouble remembering the most important things. 😖

Impulsivity and Distraction

Feeling: Agitated 😑Restless 🏃 Embarrassed 😳

Impulsivity and hyperactivity in ADHD often go hand in hand, resulting in restlessness and feeling out of control. These feelings can manifest as a sudden, overpowering urge to voice an opinion or thought, regardless of the appropriateness of the situation. This impulsive behavior can impact conversations and decision-making across various scenarios.

This impulsive tendency stems from the need for constant mental stimulation and movement, causing it to spill over into actions. Alongside this, the same hyperactivity also makes distractions particularly potent. Maintaining focus on a single task becomes a struggle as the mind continually seeks novel stimuli, pulling attention away. 🤸

My ADHD brain loves to come up with random thoughts and ideas. The thing is, these unintentional mental detours don't always fit the moment. I could be chatting away with someone, and out of nowhere, my brain tosses me an utterly unrelated idea that I'm dying to yell out, and I have to spend the rest of the conversation trying not to focus on that thought. It's like I'm always mentally one step ahead of the conversation, and I have to try and stop myself from butting in and guessing what they're about to tell me. 🤨It was frustrating for them and embarrassing for me.

Task & Time Management

Feeling: Shame 😣 Rushed 🥵

Managing tasks and responsibilities can be particularly challenging for individuals with ADHD. The constant influx of thoughts and the brain's difficulty maintaining sustained focus can make organizing and prioritizing tasks difficult. 

Creating and maintaining to-do lists ✅might help, but the act of managing these lists can become overwhelming. The desire to accomplish tasks and meet deadlines often clashes with the tendency to become easily distracted by other thoughts and activities, leading to heightened stress levels and frustration when tasks remain unfinished.

Time blindness is another common challenge for many individuals with ADHD. ⌛People with ADHD often struggle to accurately judge the passage of time, affecting their ability to plan, prioritize tasks, and meet deadlines.

Time blindness is a real struggle for me. It's like time slips away without me realizing it. Planning and keeping track of time feels like trying to hold sand – it just slips through my fingers. I have difficulty knowing how long things will take, and deadlines sneak up on me. It's not just about losing track of time; it's the frustration of not knowing when to start, when to stop, or even how much time has gone by. This often leaves me feeling out of sync with everyone else, like I'm dancing to a beat I can't quite catch. 😲


Feeling: Embarrassed 😱 Ashamed 🤐Isolated  🧍

Engaging in stimming behaviors is a way for individuals with ADHD to cope with intense energy and anxiety. Stimming provides an outlet for pent-up energy, helping to regulate emotions and give a sense of comfort. 🥰

Imagine tapping your fingers rhythmically or rocking back and forth – these actions can serve as a way to release built-up tension. Stimming behaviors are often repetitive and include various activities such as hand-flapping, repeating sounds or phrases, or even moving certain body parts. 👏

While stimming might appear unusual to others, it's a natural response for many of us with ADHD. However, stimming can sometimes be a little embarrassing. Half the time, we only realize we're doing it once someone asks us to stop or make a comment about it. This can be pretty mortifying in certain situations, such as at work. 😆 We can also end up stimming in a way that can cause injuries, such as skin picking or pulling at the hair. This can be painful and cause injuries. 

Rejection Sensitivity

Feeling: Rejected 👎Insecure 💔 Excluded 🙅

Rejection sensitivity is a significant aspect of ADHD that can profoundly impact emotional well-being. For those with ADHD, including myself, the fear of rejection or criticism can trigger intense emotional reactions. It's as if third-degree burns cover us, causing even the slightest hint of disapproval to feel like a personal attack. This heightened sensitivity can lead to constant vigilance, always anticipating rejection and overanalyzing interactions for signs of negative feedback. 🧐

As a result, social interactions can become emotionally charged, often inducing anxiety, self-doubt, and a deep-seated fear of not being accepted. This emotional rollercoaster can be exhausting, shaping how we navigate relationships and affecting our self-esteem. 

We might even avoid friendships altogether, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Feeling accepted can be tough, leading many of us to mask our symptoms to fit in.


Luckily, it's not all doom and gloom for those of us navigating life with ADHD. Although life can get tricky, there's a silver lining. ✨Having an ADHD mind can mean having an endless supply of innovative ideas and creativity. This creative force allows us to see connections and possibilities that others might miss, giving us an edge in problem-solving and innovative thinking. 💡

Although it can sometimes be frustrating, our impulsivity can also be a source of spontaneity and fearlessness. 🤸Those sudden bursts of enthusiasm and passion can keep life exciting and push us into exploring new opportunities. 

And finally, let’s not forget our unique knack for hyperfocusing on things we're truly passionate about; this skill can lead to remarkable achievements and expertise in areas we're deeply interested in. Embracing my distinctive way of thinking has allowed me to unlock doors of potential that might have remained closed otherwise. 🤩

It's about celebrating the strengths and quirks that make us who we are. When we do this, we can channel our energy and creativity into pursuits that genuinely resonate with us. When we allow ourselves to sit with the complex feelings that ADHD can bring, we can learn how to transform what many people perceive as a flaw into opportunities for success. 🥰

When we get the balance right, ADHD can become a positive part of our identity that we can embrace rather than something to merely overcome and 'fix.'

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How Does ADHD Feel Like?: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What does having ADHD feel like?

Living with ADHD means that for most people, there’s no real downtime. Everyday tasks might seem like a mountain to climb, and sitting still can be a challenge. Your mind is always in motion, with a flurry of thoughts running through your head that can make focusing on things like schoolwork or conversations a struggle.

What tends to trigger anxiety in people with adult ADHD?

Due to inattentive symptoms, ADHD often brings a whirlwind of distractions, creating anxiety about falling short of your own expectations. When a person with ADHD experiences symptoms such as hyperactivity, they can struggle to slow down and may forget things like buying food or keeping up with house chores and general life responsibilities. This can also lead to feeling shame and guilt for not being able to do the things expected of you. Adult ADHD (especially undiagnosed ADHD) can have a knock on effect in regards to mental health, causing mood swings, low self-esteem, and depression.

How can you effectively manage the negative emotions associated with ADHD symptoms?

Seeking treatment and support from a mental health professional is crucial for a proper diagnosis, as undiagnosed ADHD adults are more likely to have trouble managing their mental health if not treated early. Talk to a person in your life that you trust about your symptoms; they may be more understanding of your diagnosis than you expected. It’s important to be able to talk to others in your life about your ADHD, as relationships can be incredibly helpful when managing symptoms and dealing with your diagnosis. It's equally important to be aware that adult ADHD is related to attention and impulsiveness, not intellect or capability. Despite any challenges, it's essential to recognize that your experience isn't defined by the "normal" others seem to be enjoying—but there's no such thing as normal when it comes to ADHD since it affects each person differently.

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